Soulpepper case changed cultural institutions without going to trial, experts say
An out-of-court settlement was reached in the lawsuits against Schultz and Soulpepper, all parties confirm
They may not have had their day in court, but the actresses who sued the Soulpepper Theatre Company and one of its co-founders over sexual harassment allegations succeeded in changing the company's culture, legal experts say, showing the power of civil actions as a tool in the MeToo movement.
"Their objectives, as they stated, were to create a systemic change in the way that [Soulpepper] was operating to create a safe environment," said Waddell, a partner at Toronto law firm Waddell Phillips.
"It looks like they've achieved that, and I think that that is really important."
At a press conference, Kristin Booth, Hannah Miller, Diana Bentley and Patricia Fagan said they decided to launch a civil suit in order to change what they alleged was a workplace culture that tolerated sexual harassment.
Schultz resigned and pledged to vehemently defend himself against the allegations. Both he and Soulpepper filed notices of intent to defend in the case.
Soulpepper has since taken steps towards cultivating a safer and more inclusive artistic environment, including providing crisis counsellors, setting up a whistleblower hotline and adopting a new code of conduct.
The months-long legal battle prompted self-reflection about the issue of sexual harassment in Canada's artistic community, with cultural institutions and associations across the country launching anti-harassment initiatives.
99% of civil actions never see trial, lawyer says
Karen Busby, a law professor at University of Manitoba, wasn't surprised by the Soulpepper outcome — she said 99 per cent of civil actions never go to a full trial.
There are often powerful incentives on either side of a civil suit to resolve a case outside of court, she said, including the burden of a lengthy judicial process, expensive legal fees, the potential for reputational damage and the risk of re-traumatizing victims on the stand.
Waddell said she imagines those figures will creep upwards as the .MeToo movement reshapes perceptions about the consequences of sexual misconduct.
'No less deserving of compensation'
As Waddell proceeds with a class-action lawsuit against the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and a photographer who is alleged to have taken intimate photos of students, she said she thinks civil suits will be an instrument of change in the MeToo movement, regardless of whether they go to trial.
"If the institutions now are starting to recognize the problem through these highly publicized pieces of litigation, that's good for everybody," she said.